Comparing "benlai" and "yuanlai"

If something was originally a certain way, or "should be" a certain way, the Chinese words used are often 本来 (běnlái) and 原来 (yuánlái). 本来 (běnlái) is usually an adverb while 原来 (yuánlái) could be either and adjective or an adverb.

本来 + 是 for a Change of Plans

If something happened unexpectedly later, 本来 is preferred rather than 原来 considering there is a change of the original situation. 本来 means "originally." Since the action has already happened, the pattern 是⋯⋯的 is suggested here. 是 is optional.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 是 + [(不)要 / 会 / 应该 ] + Verb + 的,但是 / 可是⋯⋯

Examples

  • 本来 是 要 去 参加 你的 生日 派对 的,可是 周末 突然 要 加班。běnlái shì yào qù cānjiā nǐ de shēngrì pàiduì de, kěshì zhōumò tūrán yào jiābān.I was originally going to go to your birthday party, but I had to work some extra time this weekend.
  • 本来 是 应该 考 得 更 好 的,可是 那天 他 生病 了。běnlái shì yīnggāi kǎo de gèng hǎo de, kěshì nà tiān tā shēngbìng le.He would have done better on the test, but he was sick that day.
  • 我们 本来 不 打算 去 的,后来 因为 他们 打 了 好 几 次 电话 就 去 了。Wǒmen běnlái bù dǎsuàn qù de, hòulái yīnwèi tāmen dǎ le hǎo jǐ cì diànhuà jiù qù le.We didn't plan to go, but we went in the end because they called us several times.
  • 这些 工作 本来 可以 明天 做 的,不过 如果 你 想 今天 做 完 也 可以。Zhèxiē gōngzuò běnlái kěyǐ míngtiān zuò de, bùguò rúguǒ nǐ xiǎng jīntiān zuò wán yě kěyǐ.This work doesn't need to be done by today. But if you want to finish it sooner, you can.
  • 本来 是 要 跟 他 结婚 的,可是 后来 发现 了 我们 真的 不 合适。běnlái shì yào gēn tā jiéhūn de, kěshì hòulái fāxiàn le wǒmen zhēn de bù héshì.I was originally going to marry him, but then I found that we are just not meant for each other.

本来 + 就 for Common Sense Statements

本来 is used when something is common sense. There are certain expectations for the speaker and listener. Since there is no real English equivalent, it is best translated as "it goes without saying." It can also be translated to "supposed to," following it with a certain expectation.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + 很 / 不 + Adj.

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + [ 会 / 要 / 得 / 应该 ] + Verb

Examples

  • 生活 本来 就 很 不 容易。Shēnghuó běnlái jiù hěn bù róngyì.Life isn't supposed to be very easy.
  • 搬家 本来 就 很 麻烦。Bānjiā běnlái jiù hěn máfan.Moving is supposed to be very troublesome.
  • 照顾 孩子 本来 就 是 父母 的 责任。Zhàogù háizi běnlái jiùshì fùmǔ de zérèn.Taking care of children is supposed to be the responsibility of parents.
  • 老师 本来 就 应该 好好 备课。Lǎoshī běnlái jiù yīnggāi hǎohāo bèikè.Teachers are supposed to prepare their lessons well.

本来 + 就 for Emphasis

If you've got an opinion to express after stating how it "should be" or "should not be," then 本来就 will help you sound more convincing. The end of the sentence usually has an imperative or rhetorical question that leads to an opinion or suggestion, emphasizing the tone.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + ⋯⋯

Examples

  • 本来 就 够 瘦 了 ,还要 减肥 吗?běnlái jiù gòu shòu le, hái yào jiǎnféi ma?You are already thin enough and you still want to lose weight?
  • 他 讲 得 本来 就 不 对,为什么 还 要 我 听 他 的?Tā jiǎng de běnlái jiù bùduì, wèishénme hái yào wǒ tīng tā de?What he said was wrong all along, so why do you still want me to listen to what he says?
  • 本来 就 不 是 个 好 人,你 怎么 还要 帮他?běnlái jiù bù shì gè hǎorén, nǐ zěnme hái yào bāng tā?He was never a good person. Why do you still want to help him?
  • 本来 就 不 喜欢 你,你 别 再 追 她 了。běnlái jiù bù xǐhuan nǐ, nǐ bié zài zhuī tā le.She never liked you in the first place, so stop pursuing her.
  • 他 说话 的 方式 本来 就 很 容易 让人 不 舒服,你 别 介意。Tā shuōhuà de fāngshì běnlái jiù hěn róngyì ràng rén bú shūfu, nǐ bié jièyì.The way he talks oten makes people uncomfortable, so don't take it personally.

原来 + 是 for “It turns out”

原来 is more used to emphasize what you accidentally find out or realize in a situation. It's similar to "as it turns out..." or "...all along." For this usage, 原来 is normally located at the beginning of the sentence.

Structure

原来 + 是 + [Fact / Truth / Reason / Purpose]

怪不得 + [Observation / Situation],原来 + 是 [因为 / 为了 / 想⋯⋯]

Examples

  • 原来 是 你 啊!我 刚才 真 没 看 出来。Yuánlái shì nǐ a! Wǒ gāngcái zhēn méi kàn chūlái.It was you all along! I didn't recognize you until just now.
  • 怪不得 你 中文 说 得 这么 好,原来你 在 中国 住 了 三十 多 年。Guàibùdé nǐ Zhōngwén shuō de zhème hǎo, yuánláinǐ zài Zhōngguó zhù le sānshí duō nián.No wonder your Chinese is so good. You lived in China for more than 30 years.
  • 原来 他们 住 在 一起,怪不得 他们 常常 一起 上 下班。Yuánlái tāmen zhù zài yīqǐ, guàibùdé tāmen chángcháng yīqǐ shàng xiàbān.It turns out that they're living together. No wonder they often come to work and leave work together.
  • 怪不得 总是 对 他 那么 好,原来 你 一直 都 喜欢 他.Guàibùdé zǒng shì duì tā nàme hǎo, yuánlái nǐ yīzhí dōu xǐhuan tā.No wonder you treat him so well. You've had feelings for him the whole time.

原来 + 的 for "Previous" or "Former"

Structure

原来 + 的 + Noun

Examples

  • 这 是 我 原来 的 家。Zhè shì wǒ yuánlái de jiā.This is my old house.
  • 原来 的 公司 关门 了。yuánlái de gōngsī guānmén le.His former company closed down.
  • 你们 原来 的 看法 不 是 这样 的。Nǐmen yuánlái de kànfǎ bù shì zhèyàng de.This is not how you previously thought about it.
  • 我 现在 的 男朋友 比 原来 的 男朋友 帅 多了。Wǒ xiànzài de nán péngyǒu bǐ yuánlái de nán péngyǒu shuài duō le.My current boyfriend is a lot cuter than my ex.
  • 原来 的 头发 那么 黑,现在 白 了 很 多。yuánlái de tóufǎ nàme hēi, xiànzài bái le hěn duō.Your hair was so black before, but now it's become a lot grayer.

Sources and further reading

Books